When Brian and I were in Chicago in 2015, one of the first things we did after checking into our hotel, the Hilton Downtown Chicago, was walk across the street into Grant Park to wander around and check out the lake front. We knew there was a famous fountain in the park… I wanted to check out Buckingham Fountain because it’s one of the largest fountains in the world, and Brian wanted to check it out because it’s the famous fountain from the Married With Children opening credits.
Buckingham Fountain is stunning. Symbolizing Lake Michigan, it conveys the enormity of the lake, and the four sets of Art Deco style sea horses represent the four states that border the lake. The fountain is made of pink Georgia marble and granite elements, and the sculptures are made of bronze.
When we arrived in Chicago this summer, we did the exact same thing. We checked into the Hilton again, and walked across the street to show them Buckingham Fountain. They were just as in awe of the Chicago landmark as we were the first time we saw it — and now we all had the same quest:
- We wanted to see the big water show that happens every hour, where the middle of the fountain shoots up 150 feet!
- We wanted to visit the fountain at night to see the famous light show — Brian and I never saw the fountain at night on our last visit because we were at the Grateful Dead Fare Thee Well concerts every night!
After spending the day visiting the Chicago History Museum, taking an Architecture Boat Tour, eating at Dylan’s Candy Bar, and exploring Navy Pier, we made our way back to the hotel and as we looked up we saw the water from Buckingham Fountain shooting high into the air. We hurried over to the fountain, but the show ended just as we arrived.
That wasn’t going to stop us though… We found a great spot to view the show, sat down on the concrete, and waited 40 minutes for the next show to start — and the wait was worth every second. At 10:00 on the dot, the show began — music began to play, the light show began, and the water shot straight up into the air. So awesome!
If you visit Chicago, I highly recommend visiting Buckingham Fountain during the day and at night, as the experiences are completely different!
Buckingham Fountain Water And Light Displays
Buckingham Fountain’s water capacity is 1.5 million gallons. Depending on wind conditions, major displays recirculate approximately 14,100 gallons of water per minute conveyed through 134 jets. Water is recirculated from the base pool after the basins are filled and not drawn from the outside except to replace losses from wind and evaporation.
- Pump 1, 250 horsepower for 7,000 gallons of water a minute, is the primary pump that keeps the fountain running throughout the day.
- Pump 2, 190 horsepower for 5,500 gallons of water a minute, and Pump 3, 75 horsepower for 1,600 gallons of water a minute, operate only during the major fountain water display at the top of every hour.
The bottom pool of the fountain is 280 feet in diameter, the lower basin is 103 feet, the middle basin is 60 feet and the upper basin is 24 feet. The top of the upper basin stands 25 feet above the water in the lower basin.
The Buckingham Fountain lighting effects are created with 820 lights. Kate Buckingham envisioned a fountain whose effect was that of soft moonlight. She worked with technicians, testing various colors of glass filters and currents to produce the effect.
Buckingham Fountain Operations
The Buckingham Fountain was manually operated from 1927 through the 1970s. The operations were first fully automated in 1980, when the Chicago Park District entered into a contract with Honeywell. The computer was located on site, but the monitoring system took place remotely, off premises. For the first several years, the monitoring system was based in the Chicago suburbs. In the mid 1980s, the monitoring system was moved to Atlanta, but then returned to suburban Chicago in 1994.
The Chicago Park District upgraded the Buckingham Fountain computer in 2013 with a non-proprietary Allen-Bradley PLC System. Today, all of the automation and monitoring takes place on-site, with remote alarm monitoring and notification.
The fountain still has its original underground pump house with two levels. The control room is located on the first level, and the lower level pump room is 35 feet long, 25 feet wide. The original pumps and motors are still in operation today.
Buckingham Fountain History
The Clarence F. Buckingham Memorial Fountain opened to the public in May 1927. As the centerpiece of Grant Park, Chicago’s Front Yard, architect Edward H. Bennett designed the Fountain to serve as the park’s formal focal point without obstructing the views of the Lake Michigan. Kate Sturges Buckingham dedicated the structure to the people of Chicago in 1927 in memory of her late brother, Clarence, donating one million dollars for the Fountain.
Inspired by the Latona Fountain at Versailles, Edward H. Bennett designed the monument in collaboration with French sculptor Marcel Loyau and engineer Jacques H. Lambert. The structure is composed of four basins clad in elaborately carved granite and pink Georgia marble. Buckingham Fountain, however, is twice the size and recirculates approximately three times more water than its French counterpart.
Know Before You Go
- The Clarence F. Buckingham Memorial Fountain is located in the center of Grant Park at 301 South Columbus Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60605.
- Buckingham Fountain runs from 8:00 am to 11:00 pm daily from early May through mid-October, depending on Weather. Times are subject to change when large events take place in or around Grant Park.
- While in operation, the Fountain produces a major water display for 20 minutes every hour. During the major display, a center jet shoots water to a height of 150 feet into the air. Major displays begin daily at 9:00 a.m. and continue thereafter, every hour on the hour.
- Beginning at dusk, a spectacular light and music display accompanies the major display, beginning every hour on the hour for 20 minutes. Each evening, the final major display begins at 10:35 p.m.
- Buckingham Fountain was featured in the opening credits of the Married With Children TV show, and some now call it the Al Bundy Memorial Fountain.
- The Buckingham Fountain water lighting effects are created with 820 lights and 134 jets.
- Buckingham Fountain’s water capacity is 1.5 million gallons.
- The Fountain has remained intact since 1927 except for a brief theft of two carved fish heads from the fountain, weighing several pounds each. The fish heads were recovered when a salvage place was offered the pieces and the buyer thought they looked very familiar and reported them.